Fred’s Prayer: A homily for September 23, 2018

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What is holding you back?

I am a Catholic deacon.  That means, among other things, that I stand in the front of churches and wear long white albs with sideways colored stoles, I speak about the Gospel and keep a blog such as this one that contains faith-themed content.  It’s safe to talk to me about religion, about Jesus, about spiritual matters.

I also have a day job where I wear a suit, stand in front of conference rooms and go on and on about market share, competitive dynamics and key differentiators.  I use computers and graphs and walk from one meeting room to another all day.  Talking about matters of religion and faith occurs much, much less frequently there.  And when it does come up, often those who are engaged with me have no idea where I stand.  In some ways, it’s risky for it to be brought up in these settings.

But such was the case a few days ago when I was meeting with a man named Fred.  It was a business meeting and so it was… all business.  I hadn’t met Fred before so he told me a bit about himself, including a history filled with challenges.  He told me that when he was a young man, he needed to have one lung completely removed and then a portion of the other as well.  He also had numerous colon surgeries with some lingering effect.  Given these early setbacks, I couldn’t held but wonder about his life.  About what it must have been like to have to contend with such difficulties.

Then, toward the end of the conversation, he mentioned, pretty matter of factly, that he is an experienced scuba diver.  That it is one of his greatest passions in life.  I’ll admit that I thought to myself… hmmm… only has part of one lung and is a scuba diver?  That’s… interesting.  Later, he mentioned that he is a sky diver.  I asked some leading questions and learned further that Fred is an adventurer, a risk taker, someone who has lived a very, very full life.  I felt compelled to tell him that I had been inspired by the way he had lived his life… that despite his physical challenges, he wasn’t held back in any way.

There was a quiet moment.  I sensed Fred was debating what to say next.  He looked up slowly from the table before us and said the following: “A Catholic priest told me in college, after I had told him that I needed another operation, that I should… in my quiet moments… say the following words: Holy Spirit, possess my mind, my heart and my soul.

He then continued by saying that he did just that.  This became his personal mantra from that day forward.  And he attributed his confidence, his peace and his outlook to this very idea, that his mind, heart and soul were not his alone but rather were given over to the Holy Spirit.  That the Holy Spirit was guiding him forward in every possible way.

There, in the middle of a business meeting, a man I had just met gave to me a simple but profoundly powerful prayer, a lighthouse, a guidepost for living.

The word inside of “Holy Spirit, possess my mind, my mind and my soul” that really stands out, that actually that grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me is “possess“.  To be possessed means to be owned, to be governed, to be controlled.  It is surrender.

Usually, to be controlled by someone or something else means a total loss of freedom, but to surrender to God is the ultimate freedom.  It is declaring that we are, in fact, putting ourselves last… as Jesus instructed his followers to do in today’s Gospel.  It is a complete and total emptying out of ourselves so that it may be filled up instead by something much greater.

Last becomes first.  Loss becomes gain.  Surrender becomes freedom.

That sounds good… sure. But in order to give ourselves completely over to Him, we have to be released from whatever it is that holds onto us now. To be possessed by God, we can’t be possessed by anything else. For most of us, we are possessed by any number of things. Fear. Comfort. Possessions. Resentment. Past hurts. Greed. The list goes on.

Holy Spirit, possess my mind, my heart and my soul.

What is holding you back?

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